The holidays present us with a formidable challenge. Walk into a room filled with people you know too well. Add equal parts expectation, judgment and defensiveness, plus mounting levels of stress and you've got an emotional cocktail that's guaranteed to leave you hung over.
This year, break the cycle of bicker-fume-apologize-repeat and start on a stronger foot with these strategies for shifting your preparation and response to family-induced stress.
Gird Your Loins
This is something my mother always told me to do, as a rule, and that advice comes in handy. You know what's going to bother you this year, because it's likely the same thing that bothered you last year, and the year before that. Someone you know will say something to tick you off. Your brother-in-law may not help your sister around the house because he never does and it bothers you. So there's no use pretending that this year will be different.
For the interactions you're dreading, prepare your stock and tidy response. You can't stop your sister in law from making a comment about your single status, for instance, but you can say that you're enjoying being on your own and dating again, and that you appreciate her concern, but you haven't had this much fun in years.
Secure an Ally
I interviewed psychologist Len Felder, Ph.D., years ago for an article on coping with family tension, and he shared a great tip. Get someone, ideally one of the stronger personalities in your family, an influencer, to help take the heat off.
For instance, if you're worried that your unemployment will become the center of family talk, get your key influencer on your side beforehand and let her know that you could use her help in redirecting the conversation if it goes on too long. Usually people in that role are only far too happy to use their influence to help keep the peace.
Don't Face Off at the Table
While it's important to hold your ground on a topic or respectfully redirect, it's not okay or appropriate to tear into someone, using this occasion to "fix" that situation or tension between you. Usually such an interaction might begin with you slamming your fork down and saying, "Look. I've had just about enough of this." Yeah, don't do that.
In fact, if you suspect some friction between you and another person could surface, pull him or her aside in advance and say, "I know you and I have some things to work out on our own, but let's not do it with an audience." Keep the heavy conversations one-on-one, and don't turn them into spectator sport.
Bookend your visit
Whether you're showing up and leaving the holiday festivities or hosting it, you want to have some kind of plan in place for you to prepare and recover. Do something right before the most hectic day that will keep you centered, whether it's lunch with a friend or an hour-long facial.
Same goes for afterwards. If you know that two or five straight days with your mother leaves you depleted, schedule that massage or get-together now so that you know you have that to look forward to. Or, block the post-holiday days as schedule-free and give yourself time to do absolutely nothing at all except read a novel or lose yourself in a Homeland marathon.
Terri Trespicio is a lifestyle expert, media personality, and coach.
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